Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Chatting with a Mormon Missionary: Take 8

Today I'll be posing as David, asking questions on the nature of certainty and how anyone can really know anything about "god".
You are speaking live with Katie, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church.
Katie: hello

Me: Hi - I'm David.

Katie: how are you?

Me: I'm good, how are you?

Katie: I'm doing well, thanks
what prompted you to come on mormon.org?

Me: I have some questions about god in general and about lds specifically

Katie: great

Me: Why do you believe that Mormonism is the right religion?

Katie: what has led you to have questions about God and the church?

Me: I don't see how people can be so certain they're right, and I wonder what's different about them. (By calling it "different" instead of deficient, I'm allowing Katie to think she has an opportunity to tell me about the difference the Holy Ghost makes.)

Katie: great question
David, God has given us some incredible tools so that we can know truth
scriptures and prayer

Me: Do you mean like the rules of logic and our critical thinking skills?

Katie: let me share a little bit with you about the church
yes! Those are also important tools that he has given us
He teaches us many wonderful truths about who we are and His plan for us
through prophets
and we are invited to read their words
and to pray and ask Him is it is true

God has give us the Bible and in our day he has brought forth the Book of Mormon ("Our day" is the 1820s?)
another testament of JEsus Christ

Me: How do you know those are the right holy books?

Katie: because
I have read them abd pondered their teachings

Me: Not trying to be offensive, but when there are so many other religions and religious texts, how do you know which is right? (Notice how I continually make small social overtures which do not require me to concede a point, or agree with a factually untrue statement. "Not trying to be offensive" sounds polite without ever saying I respect her beliefs or that she should be offended that her podunk little religion sounds exactly like all the others - except the underwear part. You can build social capital by being overtly polite and pleasant. I'll cash in this political capital later.)

Katie: and most importantly I have asked God if it is true
sorry, I didn't mean to answer with just because :)

Me: or if any of them are right?

Katie: by using what you said earlier - our minds and critical thinking skills (Oh Katie, I love you. This couldn't be going any better if you were following a script!)

Me: That's ok :)

Katie: DAvid, let me share with you a little but about someone who had some simmilar questions

Me: Okay, but I'd like us to get back to this point later - about how we can use critical thinking to discern between religions

Katie: sure
that is actually still what I am getting at
as well
David, do you understand the role of a prophet?

Me: I think it's like the Mormon pope - he's always a man; he intercedes with god on behalf of his people; he gets divine revelation; and at least in the case of Catholics is supposed to be infallible. Am I right? (I don't know if Mormons dislike Catholics as much as fundamentalist/evangelical Christians do, but hell, the Prophet is just a less-rich pope.)

Katie: sort of...
God has called prophets from the begining of the earth- since Adam and Eve (Ouch. I remember thinking those were two real actual first humans, some 6,000 years ago.)
He uses a pattern to teach us
He calls righteous men and speaks to them directly- teaching them all about the gospel and His plan for us
HE commands the prophets to teach us
they teach us directly also record their words in scriptures

Me: What has led you to believe all this - that god exists, is concerned with humans, uses prophets, etc.?

Kaite: many things
one is the other part to this pattern that I am sharing

Me: ok (I find that non-committal agreements like this - as in, okay continue your case - are a good way of staying "nice" and keeping the person you're talking to from raising up defenses to communication - like sticking their fingers in their ears and singing "What I Got" by Sublime. Okay, probably not. But it's what *I* like to hum while ignoring the facts around me. Also, doing something "nice" makes someone feel like the owe you, which is often handy.)

Katie: so after God commands His prophest toteach us- and record scriptures
He commands us to read their words and to pray abotu it.
we read scriptures and are taught by prophets and then ask God if they are true
and God answers our prayers (This is self-indoctrination. The social pressure to "hear from God" in a tight community of true believers is overwhelming. In hereditary religion, you've got no choice but to interpret your own inner voice as God. Since you know you're supposed to reach the conclusion your family's dogma is true, the "voice of God" in your head tells you things in complete compliance with what your family and your religion have told you it would. It can feel very persuasive, if you believe it.)

Katie: however, many people choose not to believe or follow prophets
when people reject prophets it is called apostasy (Note: at least from this chat, apostasy for LDS is rejecting prophets, not god. interesting)

Me: I don't think people really have a choice in what they believe. I mean, either you think something is true or you don't, wouldn't you agree? (Here i try to cash in on social capital built up with earlier pleasantries, smileys, "is that rights" and non-committal agreements, but it fell a little short.)

Katie: no
we learn and study and ponder things DAvid

Me: Do you think for one moment you could choose to believe that the earth is flat?

Katie: we learn new things every day

Me: I agree we learn new things every day

Katie: no because I know it is not...
knowledge affects our beliefs
when we learn the gospel

Me: Absolutely - knowledge DOES affect our beliefs

Katie: and Gods teachings we can choose to find out if it is true or not

Me: so we may have a choice in how much and what kind of knowledge we acquire, but I don't think we "choose" our beliefs. You can't choose to believe the earth is flat, because your knowledge prevents that "choice"
(Is it wildly narcissistic to say "Ta-da!" to my computer screen when I think I've made an excellent point? Yes? Oh well.)

Katie: ok
I agree
when you know something you don't have to believe because you know
(Katie, I could kiss you!)

Me: Okay. I think we both totally agree on that. (This is actually pretty significant. If that germ of a worm of an idea gets into her head - that people don't choose to be apostates, but that knowledge affects beliefs - it will make punishment for apostasy unjust in her eyes and may get her to question her own knowledge. Or it might not, but I choose to remain hopeful.)
You said that one of the ways you know LDS is true is that you have studied and prayed over the Bible and BOM, right?

Katie: yes

Me: What about other holy texts, like the Koran?

Katie: let me share a scripture with you about it (Let me guess, Moroni 10? Nephi 5? In eight conversations I've been consistently given the same two passages.)

Me: Okay.

Katie: check out verse 3-5. This is a promise from the Book of Mormon

Me: The url/verse didn't come through

Katie: look for what God is promising us in these verses
let me try again

Me: Thanks - it worked that time.

Katie: great

Me: I've heard similar things before, from other religions. Ray Comfort of NZ is always talking about talking to god with sincerity, and my Muslim friends have shown me similar verses in the Koran.
Do you think Ray and Muslims are wrong in their religion?

Katie: I know that they are
DAvid, what did God promise in this scripture?

Me: That by praying you can ask him whether or not something is true and he'll tell you
How do you know they are? That's really the crux of the puzzle in my head. How do you know something you only believe? (Agh! I gotta slow myself down. When I ask too many questions, they don't all get answered as thoroughly as they should)

Katie: not something DAvid
the Book of Mormon
if you and pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon is true He will answer your prayers
and if you know that the Book of Mormon is true, you will know that what it teaches is true (Gee, and tautologies are statements that are tautologies.)

Me: Okay, so it's specifically the veracity of that particular book, not a promise to help you know what's true about other areas, right? (Because those might be testable claims!)
What if I pray and ask if the BOM is true and I feel like he's said "No"?

Katie: actually that knowledge helps you out with incredible ammounts of knowledge
that wont happen, but if it did then you would logically know it wasn't true (Okay, ouch on the logic front, but kudos to her crediting a rational reason for disbelief. This only ten minutes after conceding we don't choose to believe/disbelieve. So - excellent progress from Katie.)

Katie: David, I know that the Book of Mormon is true
I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet (and if I say it enough times, I can make myself believe anything)
will you read the Book of Mormon and ask God if it is true?

Me: Sure. But will you do me a favor in return?

Katie: that's great!
I know DAvid, that God will answer your prayers (with "Yes", "No", or "Wait". Same as a jug of milk.)
and you will know that the Book of Mormon is true
and incredible spiritual truths will be unfloded to you!
sure, what can I do for you?

Me: Will you read the Koran and ask god if it is true? Or the teachings of Buddha? Or the Egyptian Book of the Dead?
Because if one of those is right, I want you to find it. And if they're not right and Joseph Smith is the true prophet, they you'll have even more reason and knowledge to back up and inform your belief, like we talked about before. (Or the third stealth option - all the religions are man made, just like all the gods and prophets.)

Katie: that is true ("Booyah!" yells at the monitor are probably equally self-serving, huh?)
do you have a Book of Mormon?

Me: No, I don't. I'll order on through the site today though :)

Katie: wonderful

Me: This has been a really great conversation. I still have more questions.

Katie: DAvid, we also have wonderful missionaries in your area that can come and bring one to you and teach you more about the SAvior
will you meet with them?

Me: But maybe it would better to talk again in a couple weeks, after I've had a chance to read the Book of Mormon and you've had a chance to read the Koran. Then we can talk again, and compare notes. You can help me see why you know that this one is right

Katie: sure

Me: I have a special needs child in the home, so visitors are problematic for us. (Theme music from "Psycho" is playing in my head at the thought of battling off doorstep missionaries as my marker-weilding pants-less toddler runs about yelling "Booyah!" and hitting himself in the head with a stuffed puppy.) I do most of my socializing online as a result. (True. Sad, but true.)

Katie: would you like to set up a time to talk again?
when would work for you?
I see

Me: I would love that Katie :) Weekdays before 2 EST are generally good for me - what's best for you?

Katie: that's fine
I am online Tuesday and Friday mornings from 7am to 11 am EST
come on any time and ask for me

Me: Okay Katie. Will you get a copy of the Koran from your library? I'll order the BOM now and we can talk again soon.

Katie: it has been
thanks for talking with me

Me: Thank you - have a great day. I'm really looking forward to having another conversation about knowledge, belief, and god :)

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us and for your interest in the Church. Please know that you are welcome to worship with us any time, request a visit from Mormon missionaries, order a Book of Mormon, or continue to browse our Web site to learn more answers to life's greatest questions.

What Have We Learned?
That Katie is the best Mormon outta 8 - and what her schedule is.* She was by far the most engaging to talk to, and I felt myself actually being excited to have the conversation with her. While she made a lot of bald assertions and unsupported claims, and her concept of what "knowing" something means is so inclusive as to be fairly meaningless, she could follow a chain of logic or argument from one point to the next without getting lost. So I really am planning on having a future talk with her. I'll just have to remember that I'm "David" when I do so. (For the gender-switching explanation, check out Mormon Chat #5 below.)

I also learned that I need to stick with this particular line for most of my theist/atheist discussions. How do you "know" that something is true. It's the question that got me out of religion and out of god-belief, and it's also the one I probably have the most to say about and have thought about the most. I should never talk about the historicity of Jesus (and frankly, I don't care if a Jefferson Bible-type rabbi actually was wandering around Jerusalem or if Paul made the whole thing up in a fevered dream). I should NEVER talk about the details of any science. (I *should* link people to credible sources like Scientific American, or get back up from a friend who IS knowledgeable about science.) I CAN talk about the Bible. I can't really back anything up that I half-remember from an ACA lecture about the early church or the cannon of the Bible. Now, if I wanted to learn more about those and use them in debate, I could. But for now, I'm gonna zero in on this one. I didn't know how little evidence there was Christ's life as a Christian, but I don't think it would have made a damn bit of difference if I had. I mean, I was a day-age creationist; I was capable of cramming logical fallacies into tightly compartmentalized spaces in my head.

So, I'm gonna go order the Book of Mormon. I'm going to get way too much crap in the mail as a result, probably, but anything to take money out the Mormon church (or any church)'s pocket sounds good to me. Check out their Free Media Gallery. I urge all my readers to order as many materials as they could possibly desire. I don't like the Mormon church spends their money infringing on the rights of gay and lesbian Americans. Let's let them waste it making free Bibles for every atheist that wants to debate a Christian online. And hey, I'm pretty sure you could decorate a dorm room wall with the shiny side of all those DVDs. Or, you could have your own snark-fest, debunking, debating, mocking and maligning the content of these free materials. So come on, make me happy and accept a little junk mail.

Or just have the stuff shipped to your ex-pastor's house. Whatever works for you.**

To catch up on the whole series, please feel free to browse earlier chats.
Chatting with Mormons 1 - On Mormon history and the similarities between LDS and Islam.
Chatting with Mormons 2 - On belief, first use of Moroni 10.
Chatting with Mormons 3 - On women in the LDS church. I injured myself doing faceplams.
Chatting with Mormons 4 - On Joseph Smith's history - till the missionary ran away
Chatting with Mormons 5 - On original sin, hell, and the devil.
Chatting with Mormons 6 - On death an afterlife.
Chatting with Mormons 7 - On science, feminism, and child free by choice.

Finally, here's the kind of conversation I want to eventually have with Katie and other theists like her. This video has the honor of killing my faith :) It's fun to watch now, but I can't tell you how bad I squirmed, trying to come up with justifications that didn't sound pathetic in my own head. Ex-Christian.net, "God is Not Great", and the Atheist Experience helped me through the next bit, and now I'm as loud and proud as it's possible to be. Critical thinking = good.

* Go find your own Mormon.
** DISCLAIMER: Angie the Anti-Theist is a dumb ass with an odd sense of a humor, not a lawyer or law enforcement officer. If you broke the law, I didn't tell you to.